PITTSBURGH (AP) — The lawyer for a black high school student who said he was beaten and wrongly arrested by three white city police officers told a jury Tuesday that the police version of events is a "fairy tale."
J. Kerrington Lewis, the attorney for Jordan Miles, 20, opened the civil rights case with Miles' version of the events on a cold, snowy night in January 2010.
Miles contends he was walking innocently from his mother's house to his grandmother's around the corner at about 11 p.m. when plainclothes police rolled up in an unmarked car without identifying themselves and began yelling, "Where's your drugs? Where's your money?"
Miles, then an 18-year-old violist at the city's performing arts high school, says he panicked, briefly struggled with them and ran away, because he thought he was being robbed.
Lewis said Miles was violently beaten and suffers from ongoing brain trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Lewis also claimed the officers later fabricated the reason for the stop and wrongly charged him with prowling and aggravated assault, among other crimes, to cover up their "savage" beating.
U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster told jurors they must decide three things: whether the officers wrongly arrested Miles without probable cause; whether they used excessive force; and whether the criminal charges against Miles — later dismissed by a district justice who said he didn't believe the police version of events — amounted to malicious prosecution.
James Wymard, the first lawyer to speak for the officers — Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutte and David Sisak — said they responded reasonably given what they knew that night. He offered a version of events much different from Miles'.
Wymard contends Miles was standing suspiciously near a dark house, his back to the street. He said one officer approached Miles and identified himself, and that Miles ran away rather than answer a question about what he was doing there.
Wymard acknowledged the officers hit Miles, but only after he ran and elbowed one officer in the head and kicked another in the knee.
A second defense attorney, Bryan Campbell, said police were justified in using force, especially after Saldutte felt a hard object in Miles' jacket pocket — which police at first believed was a gun but later determined was a bottle of soda.
Campbell also suggested that Miles' version wasn't credible. "He says these officers, for no reason at all, just drive down the street, jump out (of their car) and beat him up," Campbell told the jury.
Lewis said Miles never had a bottle and that police couldn't produce it because they claim to have thrown the bottle away — even though Chief Nate Harper acknowledged it was evidence that should have been retained.
Lewis also noted Miles was 5-foot-7 and weighed 150 pounds, while all three officers are around 6 feet tall and weigh 200 pounds and two are martial arts experts.
Wymard told the jury that police asked a woman in the home Miles was near if she recognized him that night or had given him permission to be nearby. She said no.
But that woman, Monica Wooding, a friend of Miles' family who will testify on his behalf at the trial, testified at a preliminary hearing that police never asked her those questions, prompting a district justice to toss the criminal charges against Miles.
The trial is expected to last more than two weeks and feature testimony by Miles, the three officers and police brass, some of whom are expected to testify that the officers sometimes fabricated information to justify their actions.